Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Aey Tee Yem!

ATM. Automated Teller Machine a.k.a Any Time Money. Also known more affectionately as daddy in college parlance.

A decade ago, around this time of the year I left home in the southern corner of India for college to a place far north. There were many challenges someone joining college, leaving his home and native state to a different region in a country like India. But at least one of them was not quite a problem - sending money through a bank. Thankfully, ATMs had started to make their way into India some half decade ago and by the time I was going to college, there were more ATMs than chai-sutta stalls in a locality. I cannot imagine going through college in a distant land without access to ATMs. Scary! Like those little weirdos of posterity will tell to each other about how they can’t believe their parents grew up in an epoch of time where there was no Google and Facebook. Ugh, did they even grow up?

So, ATMs. As with a lot of engineering systems, an ATM has, at least as far as the end user is concerned, has an input and an output. No, I’m not talking about the power supply as input and cash dispensing unit as the output, dumb! I’m talking about account deposit as input and account withdrawal as output! Yes, the account deposit happening in one corner of India most probably around dad’s payday and the withdrawal happening in a different corner of India in most cases on the same day, within a few hours. For practical purposes, the withdrawal happening on dad’s payday as well.

ATM was this often criticized but indispensable part of college life. An ATM could test you and taunt you as much as physically possible. I’ve had to stand in line outside the ATMs for over half an hour. I’ve had to do that in midday on peak summer days and in the midnight hours in the wintry December nights. I’ve had Murphy’s law conspire against me in all possible ways including and not limited to, this day when I stood outside the ATM waiting patiently for my turn for some time and when my turn comes, the machine stops functioning or goes out of cash. Or in another instance when I assume the money has been credited by dad only to stand in realize and check your balance to realize things haven’t moved from status quo for the past thirty days and just as you step out of the ATM your dad messages you saying he is on his way to the bank to deposit some money in the account and you look back and see a line that guarantees you another half hour wait. Aah, Mr. Murphy.

The first couple of days of a month are the busiest in ATM queues. But since your dad is adamant he’ll credit the money only around then, you are left with no choice but to get in line. The lines of credit which started from around the tenth of previous month to yesterday at various shops and establishments in and around the college campus are running perilously deep and your whole well-being (physically at least) depends on your ability to get some cash this day. This is the day you will, like Cinderella (or an equivalent male version) transfer from a pauper to a prince, which ideally would last you for the next ten days or so. Before your equilibrium swing takes you back to the pauper side of the spectrum.

Withdrawing from ATMs are also essential because of the limitations of swiping cards. Make no mistake, cards were accepted at a lot of restaurants, but your account statement is something which your dad has access to (God, is there no privacy in this world anymore?!) and he would be least impressed if he saw your most common points of purchase was in some bar or some smoke shop. To avoid that peril meant standing in the line, no questions asked.

I’ll end this article with an anecdote, an ingenious scheme a batch mate and a good friend of mine devised which is simply brilliant. He, as was the case of most engineering students, never had “enough” money. ATM withdrawals are generally possible only in multiples of hundred and this gentleman occasionally had his balance ending as Rs. 70 or Rs. 80, which meant even after his maximum permissible withdrawal, he’d be left with Rs. 70 or Rs. 80 in the account “unutilized” Necessity as they say is indeed the mother of invention and improvise certainly he did. ATMs had the feature to do an account-to-account transfer using registered mobile number. So this gentleman ended up transferring a Rs. 20 or Rs. 30 from some friend of his using their registered mobile number, withdraw the amount as Rs. 100 and return the amount transferred to the lender. Talk about rigging the system very very legally!

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